Saturday, July 27, 2013

Yoga for Your Tongue

One great way to practice your Chinese (and English) is through tongue twisters. That’s something I do everyday for, well, fun. (Yes, that is what language nerds do =)

As featured in this week’s video, here’s a Chinese twister for your tongue about (rather confused) soldiers going to battle:


Literally translated:

800 foot soldiers head towards the northern slope
The artillery soldiers line up to run north
The artillery soldiers are afraid of hitting the foot soldiers
The foot soldiers are afraid to be hit by the artillery soldiers

This exercise helps to practice the “b” and “p” sounds in Chinese. These aspirate sounds are pretty easy to pronounce, because they are like popping sounds that are pronounced in the front of your mouth. Try putting your hand in front of your mouth to feel the air coming out as you say it.


Since it’s great to be bilingual, I try to keep my English muscles toned as well. My favorite is about a guy who has an affection for peppers that apparently no one seems to believe.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

…which sounds pretty funny (and equally tongue-tying) in Chinese:

那彼得·派珀挑的腌辣椒 到哪去了?


This next one is an exercise to practice the “s” sounds in Chinese, and it has to do with the numbers involving 4 (which happens to be not so lucky in Chinese, because the sound for the number “4” - is similar to the character for “death” - ).

四是四, 十是十,
十四是十四, 四十是四十,

Literally translated:

Four is four, ten is ten
Fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty
If you can say fourteen, forty, forty-four correctly, try it yourself!


For English tongue twisters, it’s recommended to say it at least three times in succession, such as the following ones:

A quick witted cricket critic 

Can you can a can as a canner can can a can?

Roberta ran rings around the Roman ruins

By repeating at least three times, your mouth will have proper workout around the challenging words like “quick” and “witted”. This will help increase the reaction time and agility of your language muscles. Also, try to increase the speed every time you say it, without compromising the quality or the correct enunciation. 


This next tongue twister is a rather philosophical one, possibly inspired by the Daoist philosophies of Lao Zi:

不要知道不知道, 也不要不知道知道

Literally translated:

To know is to know, to not know is to not to know
Don't say you know when you don't know,
and don't pretend you don't know when you know
You have to honesty, actually, 100 really know

This exercise helps to practice the “zhi” and “shi” sounds in Chinese, which are pretty difficult to pronounce when juxtaposed side-by-side.


Now many Chinese tongue twisters tell a short and witty story, such as the following ones:

头热,晒人肉, 晒的心里好难受
晒人肉,好难受 晒的头皮发皱

Literally translated:

The day is hot, burning people's skin, burning so much it's unbearable
Burning people's skin, so unbearable, so much that my that the scalp is wrinkling!

Definitely puts into perspective how hot it can be in China! And this next one, is just plain weird:

蚊子身三尺六, 八十的老头躺在摇篮里

Literally translated:

Strange strange oh so strange, a sparrow tramples over an old hen
A mosquito grows three feet six, and an 80-year-old lies in a cradle


As a bonus (not included in the video), here is my favorite Chinese tongue twister involving two guys with round eyes:



Literally translated:

Yan Round Eye lives in front of the mountain, Yang Eye Round lives at the back,
The two of them climbs to the top to compare their eyes.
Wonder if Yan Round Eye’s eye rounder than Yang Eye Round,
Or is Yang Eye Round’s eye rounder than Yan Round Eye?


All and all, tongue twisters are a great exercise for your mouth, and the great thing about them is that you can do it whenever and however many times you want!

And if you want to give your mouth an international workout, check out this great reference for tongue twisters from around the world.